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What I see when clients open the door…

I usually see a person apologizing for their mess.  

 

They have already apologized during our initial phone assessment for letting things become a mess.  They meet me at the door and apologize again. They often mention how embarrassed they are showing me their mess.  They ask me if this is the worst I’ve ever seen and if other people have a mess like they do.

 

I always tell them there is no need to apologize because I never judge. In fact, I’ve already told them not to feel like they have to clean up before I come.  I’ve told them it actually helps me design a better solution for them by seeing everything as it normally is.  And, no, it’s not the worst I’ve seen because I’ve never truly seen a ‘mess’. I see the potential for calm and the opportunity for improvement. Most of all, I see a very brave but very overwhelmed person.

 

I see people who are primary caregivers for ill loved ones, clients who are battling their own illnesses, people who are coping with loss, people raising families, people who are working hard at demanding jobs or running a business.  Many of the people I see are checking more than one box on this list. 

 

I see people who have internalized the messages that we are supposed to buck up and do it ‘all’, be ‘all’ that and have it ‘all’ but have become overwhelmed when the weight of ‘all’ is too much to carry for any one person.

 

I see people who are incredibly brave, who do brave things everyday and were brave enough to call a professional organizer.  I know how hard it is to ask for help. Especially when we are taught to shoulder our burdens and work harder and not complain. And, thus, the expectations we put on ourselves are often as weighty as the physical stuff we find ourselves burdened by.  

 

I see people who have reached their breaking point and managed to march beyond.  

I see people who are brave and who have committed to moving forward.

I see people who need to unload their burdens – physical and mental.

But, I never, ever see a mess.

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Tips to STAY Organized

Fall is the time of the year that many people feel the urge to organize because the holidays and winter are coming. Yet 55% of those people who work to organize a space report that it takes less than TWO weeks for their space to become disorganized.  Another 39% report it takes less than ONE week!

 

Why is it so difficult to stay organized?

Often times, it’s because we get the essential steps to organization out of order or we skip over a step. Organization is not about jumping into complicated systems or purchasing expensive products.  Organization always starts with a good understanding of clutter, disorganization, and a realistic organization system that makes it easy to maintain and hard for clutter to build up again. Without these key components, it will be all too easy to slide back into disorganization.

 

What is clutter?

Clutter is anything we don’t need, love, or use.

It’s such a simple definition, but it really does cover everything in our living and working spaces. I may not love my stapler, but I do need it and use it. The tiny Japanese teacups are not needed or used in my office, but I love them.  They provide a sense of peace and calm in my space. Therefore, the stapler and the teacups stay. That year-old book that couldn’t keep my interest and really doesn’t apply to my business? It has no place in my workspace and only comes between me and the stuff I do love, use and need.

 

 

What is disorganization?

It’s stuff we love, need or use that doesn’t have a defined place in our space. Those piles of paper may be very important, but they feel and look like clutter because there is no paper system. A good paper system has a distinct and defined home for each category of paper that belongs in our home or office. For example, reference paper is scanned or filed, action paper may live in a ‘hot file’ on our desk, and transitional paper like tax prep or a major project could be contained in a portable document box.

 

Why is it important that we make the distinction between clutter and disorganization?

 Clutter takes up our energy and makes organizing feel like a bigger job than it needs to be. Organizing will take more time and money if we are trying to organize what really has no need to be in our life.  And, ultimately, clutter will overwhelm any organizational system that we try to implement.

Disorganization creates its own set of problems.  Disorganization can mean that really important things are impossible to find. Disorganization results in duplicate purchases which then feeds into the whole clutter/disorganization imbalance.  For example, if it seems we can never find the scissors, we may buy more scissors. However, we actually have scissors (several pairs) but we can’t find them because clutter is in the way and/or the scissors have no defined home and/or people in the home aren’t returning the scissors to the defined home.  So, we buy more scissors and we probably won’t be able to find those either!

Clutter and disorganization working together will be the death of any organizational attempts.  It’s no wonder that half of us cannot maintain the organizational gains we do make.

 

 

What’s the best path to organization?

Don’t let past missteps discourage you! By following the key steps below, anyone can achieve organizational success:

1)    Tackle the clutter and be ruthless.  Remember that if you don’t ‘need it, love it or use it’ it has no value to you and can only contribute to the stress of maintaining organization.

2)    Tackle tomorrow’s clutter. Look for changes that can be made to prevent clutter from ever coming into your space and put systems in place that give clutter a way out of your home.  For example, take steps to stop unnecessary paper to prevent future paper piles.

3)    Find a place for everything in your home. Once clutter is handled, everything left is important.  And, if it’s important enough to keep, it is important enough to have a defined place in your space.  There is a reason we say, “A place for everything, and everything in its place!”

4)    Make it easy to put things away. Your kids are more likely to hang their coats up if you give them a handy coat hook by the back door.  You are more likely to file papers if it’s easy to access files from your desk chair.  The best system is always the easiest system because we are all human and put off doing unpleasant or difficult tasks.

5)    Maintain the organizational systems by resetting those spaces as part of a daily routine.  Put the kitchen back to rights after a meal. Spend 10 minutes picking up the family room at the end of evening.  Put papers away and clear the desktop before ending the workday. These examples of ‘reset’ are an essential part of every organization system but a good system that is clutter-free and easy to use will make this ‘reset’ practically painless.

 

The path to organizing does not have to be full of trials and tribulations!  As a professional organizer, I’ve spent 10 years helping clients find their ‘organized’ by following these key steps.  The very best part of my job is when I visit or catch up with a client and find that the system we put in place years ago is still functioning and easy to maintain.

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Organizing for College

Make the most of dorm closets!

Do you have a college-bound freshman? If so, it may seem like the summer is flying by and you still have a million things to do before move-in day.  A little preparation now will save a ton of time, stress and effort on move-in day so you and your freshman can relax and enjoy the beginning of their college experience.

 

Take advantage of the resources available

Many colleges provide shopping lists, room layouts, lists of what is provided and suggested shopping lists for dorm living students.  Build off this information to finalize your own shopping lists. Understand the college move-in procedure and take advantage of all the support provided on move-day. Colleges do a wonderful job of supporting students in the first crazy days of campus living, and it will help you and your student to understand the key dates, times and information such as parking and shipping arrangements. It’s also a good idea to review what’s not allowed in the dorm rooms (candles are often banned).

 

Save time and room in the car

It’s not ideal to pack a room’s worth of stuff in a car on what will probably be the warmest day of the year.  You’ll be even more limited if traveling to college by plane. Most ‘big-box’ stores allow you to shop online and pick up at any store in the country.  Many stores such as Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Target have college registries allowing you and your future college student to pick out everything needed at a local store.  The order will be pulled and ready for pick up at your designated destination.  Some colleges have arrangements with shippers such as UPS and FEDEX to ship items ahead of time.

 

Get creative with space

Dorms rooms are getting nicer all the time but it’s still tough to fit nine months of stuff in a room and leave room for the roommate. Quick ways to add storage:

  • Raise the bed to make space for underbed drawers for bulky items like sweaters, extra linens or out-of-season clothes.
  • Command strip hooks are great for key lanyards, charging cords, belts, necklaces and scarves.
  • Hanging shoe bags are always great for shoes but can also be put to work to store items such as snacks or toiletries.
  • Over the door racks are great solutions for holding towels, purses, jackets & coats.
  • Use the bed frame: there are trays, shelves, caddies and hooks made to hang on college beds to provide space where it’s needed most.
  • Turn fabric storage cubes on their side to keep items visible and organized on high shelves.

 

Don’t forget the books and paper

Hopefully, there will be some studying done in that dorm room.  Create space for deep work with an open top file box for papers and group office supplies in a tray or basket to keep the desk area neat. Storage ottomans are great for bulky textbooks and will double for extra seating for guests.

 

Prepare for emergencies

Your child’s first illness away from home is going to be tough for the child and the parents!  Fill a container with basic cold/fever/stomach remedies, a thermometer, emergency chicken soup/crackers and an understanding of health resources on campus and nearby.  Not all campus clinics are open 24/7, so be sure they know the location of a backup clinic and have access to medical records and health insurance cards.  For your own peace of mind, talk to your attorney about a Power of Attorney for health care and property.  Navigating legal barriers in a crisis will be extra stress in an already stressful situation.

 

Bonus tip!

Prepare for move-out.  This school year will fly-by and resources are often limited in a college town during peak weekends. Make hotel and travel reservations as soon as possible and look into storage and shipping arrangements now.

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The DO’S and DON’TS of Organizing BIG SPACES

Organizing BIG SPACES like garages and basements is on the summer checklist for many people. A fair number of those people may also be dreading the task! What is it about these spaces that make them so difficult to organize and keep organized?  One of the main reasons is a big space like a garage or basement invites us to dump stuff.  Clutter is just delayed decisions and a huge space like an unfinished basement can hold a lot of delayed decisions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of storing things that we really don’t use, but we are struggling with a decision whether to let go or not. If you feel like you are storing more stuff than a Costco distribution center, you are not alone. 50% of Americans name their garage as the most disorganized area of their house.

 

Having these spaces organized will reap benefits beyond looking neater.  Attics, basement, and garages need to be visually inspected and maintained.  Homewreckers like rodents and water leaks tend to start in these spaces.  In fact, 98% of basements in the US will experience some type of water of damage during their lifespan.  If you have so much stuff that you miss warning signs like dampness or mouse activity, you may lose the stuff you’ve been storing all these years. The number one reason I call in junk haulers is to remove water, mold, and rodent damaged items.

 

Motivation to tackle these spaces is important, but I want to give you the skills to turn motivation into organization. Here are my DO’S and DON’TS to get these spaces in order and keep them in order.  Because, let’s face it, only professional organizers really enjoy organizing these spaces and you have better things to do this summer.

 

  • DON’T start by picking up individual items and trying to make decisions one item at a time.
  • DO sort into categories first.

It’s much easier to make decisions about a group of things than decisions about many individual items in a random order. In a situation like this, I often sort everything (EVERYTHING!) in the space while the homeowner does something more enjoyable.  Once I have everything in the space grouped into categories, it’s a lot easier and faster for the homeowner to make decisions.

 

 

  • DON’T Organize Clutter.
  • DO edit/purge/let go of items no longer loved, needed or used.

Instead of buying more bins to store what you don’t need, make decisions about what is actually important to keep.  The smaller volume of things in a space will make it easier to maintain organization in the long run (and you will save money on bins). One of my favorite guidelines is the 20/20 Rule from the Minimalists – if you haven’t used something and you can replace it for less than $20 and in less than 20 minutes, let it go.  It’s a great way of realizing that it’s not the end of the world if we suddenly do need the thing that we took to a donation center.

 

 

  • DON’T stop before you put a storage system in place.
  • DO put a system in place that helps you maintain order.

If everything is already sorted into categories, it’s easy to create storage zones so that every category has a home.  Invest in shelving or wall systems to get things off the floor and visible. Anything on the floor will be the first thing damaged if your sump pump fails or chipmunks chew their way into your garage.

 

 

  • DON’T lose what you truly value.
  • DO store items in the basement correctly.

There is nothing that makes me sadder when I’m working with a client and we find truly precious items damaged by improper storage.  Cardboard boxes are for moving, not long-term storage.  Ideally, paper memorabilia and photos should not be stored in garages, attics or basements but somewhere else in the home where the temperature and humidity are controlled.  My favorite storage solutions for garages and basements are clear bins with a gasketed lid that snaps tightly down.  No solution is 100% rodent, bug, or waterproof but these bins are much safer than bins with loose lids or cardboard boxes.

 

Ready to tackle those BIG SPACES?  Let my tips make it easier for you to begin to reap the benefits of clear spaces:  less stuff, ease of finding what you need, and protecting your treasures from potential damage.

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Declutter your Move: 5 tips to get you started downsizing

It is not surprising that 61% of Americans believe that the best time to declutter is before a move, and there are good reasons for that. Sometimes having a big deadline like a move, a remodel, or other major life transition provides the motivation needed to downsize your stuff.

 

Editing the contents of a house before a move feels intimidating, but the rewards are great:

1) you’ll have lower moving costs; 2) it’ll be easier to keep your home clean and uncluttered while it’s on the market; and 3) it’ll take you less effort and time to unpack after the move.

 

If you are considering a home transition in the future, here are 5 tips to get started with downsizing efforts. Even if the move is to a larger home, you will be thankful you invested time in getting rid of the unnecessary stuff before packing and unpacking those boxes.

 

5 Tips to Get Started with Downsizing:

  • Stop or slow down shopping except for true essentials. Now is the time to eat into the household inventory of supplies and food!

 

  • Give donations a home – placing a bin or box on each floor of your home not only captures donations but makes donating easier. By putting the “I really don’t need/like/want this” stuff in the box immediately, that stuff won’t have the opportunity to mix back in with things you do wish to keep. Having your items neatly boxed and ready to go will save time when making a donation run or setting it out for pick-up.

 

  • Schedule a regular pickup with AMVETS, Salvation Army or another charity.  Knowing that your stuff needs to be gathered together and set out for a charity to pick up on a certain date is a great motivator. (Click here for links to charities that pick-up.)

 

  • Plan ahead by taking advantage of spring/summer recycling programs and Earth Day recycling programs and events in your area to eliminate paint, Styrofoam, electronics, etc. For example, I live in McHenry County, and the McHenry County Defenders publishes a comprehensive listing of recycling programs/locations and items at http://mcdef.org

 

  • Many charities offer free pick up for furniture in good condition–but don’t wait too long to schedule. They are often booked 2-3 weeks out or may only pick up in your neighborhood on certain days of the month. The same goes for consignment stores. You can always schedule a pick-up far in advance, just don’t count on scheduling a pick-up at the last minute.

 

Consider a professional organizer

These tips will help with any downsizing effort and are almost painless when you have several months before the move date.   If you don’t have the luxury of time, a professional organizer who specializes in life transitions can be invaluable in working with a very tight schedule. I’ve helped families prepare for moves out of state in less than two weeks! It can be done, but it takes expert (organized) resources!

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Why Label a Label Maker?

Clearly, this is a label maker.  To be even more obvious, it’s a label maker in a CLEAR container.

 

So, why go to the trouble of labeling something that is so clearly what it is? It may look like overkill until we understand how this space is used and by whom.

 

Imagine this scenario…

 

  • Boss needs the label maker and takes it from the supply closet.
  • Office Manager asks to use it when Boss is done.
  • New Employee notices the label maker and asks to use it next. New Employee didn’t even know the office had a label maker. Oh, happy day!
  • New Employee is done with the label maker and puts it away. He doesn’t want to bother Boss or Office Manager, so he puts the label maker somewhere that seems logical.
  • Six months later, Boss needs the label maker but cannot guess that logical location the label maker is residing in. Having no idea who used it last, Boss doesn’t even know who to ask.

 

My job as a professional organizer is to put organizational systems in place to not only look nice but to help my clients stay organized with minimum effort.

 

This particular label maker is in the workplace of a long-term client of mine with 20+ employees and a steady stream of customers.  In these types of environments, I label EVERYTHING.

 

Human behavior is predictably unpredictable, and the place that seems logical for one person may be literally the last place another person would think to look.

 

It’s the same reason kindergarten teachers label the bin full of Crayons.  They are Crayons in a bin.  Does the bin really need a label?  Yes, it does.  A teacher is managing 20+ small humans and doesn’t want to end up with crayons in all of the bins.

 

Labels maintain order.

 

Labels help teach ALL the users of a space how to maintain that order.

 

Labels are like road signs – a road sign makes it possible to navigate in an area a person is unfamiliar with.

 

Labels help all the users of an organizing system navigate that system.

 

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Too Groggy to Spring Forward

For a those of us already sleep-deprived, daylight savings time can have a major impact on productivity.  Losing that hour by springing forward can take the spring right out of our focus and alertness.  In fact, studies have shown traffic accidents increase by 23% on the Monday after we set our clocks forward!  The best way to prevent these known productivity, safety and health hazards is allow our sleep schedules to gradually adjust in the week leading up to changing our clocks.  Life has a way of happening, so here are few tips to make Monday a bit better for the rest of us…

Get more exercise or fit in a nap

Even a short walk or a few stretches at your desk can boost mental focus.  Conversely, a 20 minute nap can boost alertness.  Research on pilots shows that a 26 minute nap in flight (thankfully while the co-pilot mans the controls) results in a 34% increase in performance and a 54% increase in overall alertness.

Reduce screen time before bed

Improve the quality of the sleep you do get by reducing screen time before bed.  Research shows that the blue light cast by our digital devices disturbs quality of sleep and leaves us groggy in the morning.  Sleep experts recommend we limit screen time for at least two hours before bed.  Also, say no to checking email before bed in order to drift off to sleep peacefully.  I learned this tip from a friend who practices law when he told me that “Nothing good comes from checking email after 9PM”!

Use these techniques to stay focused and avoid ‘cyber-loafing’

Change your phone from the brightly colorful distractor it is by enabling ‘grey-scale’ in your accessibility menu.  It’s a cheap way to make your phone very boring.   There are also great apps – Forest is my favorite – that create the cues and rewards we need to stay productive.

Set a timer to stay on task

The Pomodoro Method has been around for decades because it works.  I’ve found it’s a powerful way to get something (anything) done on the unfocused days.  Here’s a cute, short video that illustrates this technique perfectly.

Be safe and productive!  Let’s all get through this week and build the skills of productivity that benefit us year-around.

 

 

 

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Too Much Stuff to Love

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. – Willian Morris

Even if you haven’t seen this quote, chances are you’re not sitting at home buried in ugly, useless stuff.  So why are you still frustrated by your stuff? I see this frustration every day with my clients.  Clients hire me because their homes and offices aren’t working for them.  They hire me because they seem to have a lot of stuff but can’t find the stuff they are actually looking for. These clients often don’t have a clutter problem so much as they have an INVENTORY problem.  If you think you fall in this category, read on for powerful tips to better manage the stuff we use, love and need.

How do we end up with too much inventory? We buy stuff ‘just-in-case’.  It doesn’t feel like an impulse purchase if we know we will find it useful at some point. It’s easy to grab this ‘useful’ stuff when we are already in the store buying something else. Marketing gurus know this about us and attractively display this stuff on end caps and check-out lines. We aren’t making the mistake of buying stuff we don’t have a use for, BUT we are buying TOO MUCH of what we use. The irony is this extra inventory actually leads to disorganization. We can’t ever seem to find what we are looking for, so we buy more of these things the next time we are shopping.  Break the cycle of disorganization by following my key tips.

Know what you Have  (Like with Like)

One of the key tenants of organizing is putting like with like.  If you don’t store the same stuff in the same place, it’s impossible to know how much stuff you actually have. Sorting into like categories reveals how many scissors, rolls of tape or granola bars we own. It was during this sorting process that one client discovered she had 6 soup ladles. We couldn’t help but laugh when she confessed to me her family almost never eats soup. 

Know what you Need (Minimal Effective Dose)

This is a great tip from Joshua Becker of the Minimalist that he took from the medical world – Minimal Effective Dose. Doctors don’t give you medicine plus extra pills ‘just in case’ those extra pills might be helpful.  Medical drugs are extensively tested so doctors know the minimum amount to give a patient to cure them without creating harmful side effects. Your stuff is the same; you may need 4 black t-shirts but if you own 14, you’ll feel overwhelmed by the very things you use and need.

Understanding minimal effective dose or the right inventory level means we understand how many bottles of ketchup or rolls of paper towels or black t-shirts are needed for our household to run efficiently. Anything over that number creates more work to maintain order and contributes to clutter.

Know what not to buy (Don’t Buy List)

At this point, we understand what we own and we understand how much is too much. How can we be sure to not repeat past mistakes of over purchasing? I help my clients create a Don’t Buy List. When we identify excess inventory, we add it to the DON’T BUY LIST. Make sure the list is with you in some form when you shop (paper, phone or app). It can be as simple as taking a photo of your pantry with your smart phone to remind you that you already have 4 unopened boxes of gallon ziplocs. Reference this list when in the store and tempted to buy more ziplocs because you know they are useful but you aren’t sure if you have enough.  The Don’t Buy Lists gives us the comfort that we have enough.

Bottom line – effective organization means we know what we have, where to find it, and how much we need.  The time we invest in the organization process will be paid back with improved efficiency, less stress and better purchasing decisions. It means our house is less warehouse and more home.

Organizewell to Live Well!

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Happier Holidays

Are you looking forward to the holiday season or are you feeling a little grinch-like?  Whether you love the holidays or hate them, a little planning now will go a long way to making Happier Holidays.  Take a minute to reflect on last year’s holiday season and write down the good, the bad and the ugly.   Use that hard-earned information to plan a most stress-free holiday season:

What could you have delegated? It’s ok to ask for help. Make a list of those tasks and assign resources other than yourself.

What could you have outsourced?  Make those appointments now before companies are booked!

What did you hate doing? Don’t do that.

What was fun, enriching, and enjoyable? Plan for more of that!

 

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Find Time to be Productive

The holidays are an insanely busy time of the year for many of us.  We have so many things on our calendar – work, social and family events – that it’s hard to find blocks of time to work.  My productivity tip is to be ready when you do ‘find’ time.  We find time in our day when something opens up; for example,  we finish a task early, the person we are meeting is late, a client ask to reschedule, our flight is delayed.  We all get these little pockets of time but sometimes have a hard time putting them to use.  Capitalize on found pockets of time by preparing for them.  Start by answering these questions:

 

If I had 15 minutes, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.

If I had 30 minutes, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.

If I have an hour, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.

If I had three hours, I would do ______?_______ and I would need ______?_______ to complete this task.

 

By queuing up these tasks and having resources on hand, we can jump right into working rather than wasting precious minutes wondering what to do with our found time.